I can make pie. I make them all the time. But last week I really made PIE. I made a pie outdoors from beginning to end. This more than anything makes me feel like a real pie baker…like I am connecting with some unbroken chain of pie making grandmothers who have come before me. You know, the “pioneer-women-who-can-do-anything” type of pie bakers!
Let’s get started and I’ll tell you all about it.
My friend, Mary, has a cabin in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. For as long as we’ve known each other (about 18 years give or take), we’ve been talking about how neat it would be to spend a few days up there. It’s quiet, at the end of the road, no power, rustic and primitive. We made a date, packed our cars and headed for a wonderful respite.
After we unloaded there were a number of camp chores to be done. My job was to start the fire in the woodstove. There was ash build up in it from previous burns, so I decided to clean it out before laying a new fire. About 45 minutes later all the stove parts were back together, paper and kindling laid, fire lit and a cheery warm flame was casting a beautiful orange-yellow glow into the cozy cabin, taking away the chill.
Mary settled into making dinner while I sat at the table looking out the window at the incredible beauty surrounding us. We talked and laughed until midnight catching up on our families and lives and then I headed up the hill to a tiny cabin all of my own.
In the morning I headed back down to the main cabin, where tea and fire awaited me. We had a breakfast of poached eggs and greens made on the two burner Coleman stove.
After a second cup of tea, I was ready for the challenge. A pie made completely outdoors.
Now, I have always wanted an outdoor kitchen and this one, in my mind, is just how it should be; simple, plain and functional. Wooden counters, shelves and glassless windows with an inspiring view. Yes, yes yes!
We had stopped at the village grocery the day before and bought some nice looking organic rhubarb. I chopped it up for the filling, mixed it with some sugar and set it aside.
Next was the dough. I like my kitchen to be pretty chilly for pie making and the outdoor kitchen did not disappoint. The thermometer showed around 52-54F. Perfect to keep a dough well chilled. The balls of dough felt just right and they needed no further chilling since they never warmed up! A short resting period, 20 minutes or so, and they were ready to roll.
Rolling out was a breeze. In that very cool air, the dough was luxurious and velvety-smooth.
While I went on to constructing the pie,
Mary got the coals going for the Dutch Oven.
That’s right. I baked this baby in a very old fashioned way; outside in a Lodge Dutch oven with coals!
The oven was preheated by spreading out hot coals in the shape of a circle about the same as its 12 inch diameter and placing it directly on them. More coals were placed on the lid. I had no oven thermometer so I opened the oven several times in order to feel if it was hot enough.
I had prepared some tasties (leftover pie dough scraps, re-rolled, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and rolled up again and cut into 1″ pieces), placed them on a pie pan and popped them in the oven. It’s easy to tell if your oven is ready by baking a few of these before the main event and it provides a little snack for pie bakers and eaters who just cannot wait! After about 15 minutes, I carefully lifted the hot charcoal laden lid and this is what I found.
Additional hot coals were waiting to be placed under the oven and on the lid to get the heat back up. When it felt like it was ready again, I placed the pie that had been patiently waiting on a shelf in the outdoor kitchen, into the oven, put the heavy black lid back on, and added more coals on and under. After 15-20 minutes, I peaked in and saw that there was some color to the pie already…just like in my home oven! I can’t tell you how elated I was. Now all we had to do was wait. A good game of cribbage was just the ticket.
Every 20 minutes or so I checked the pie by opening the oven to look at the color and feel the heat. More coals went back on the lid and a few more underneath to keep the heat radiating onto the pie. After about 50 minutes of total bake time, I declared it done.
The pie was gorgeous! A beautiful golden brown color. Egg white wash with sugar sparkling on top. Steam wafting out of the top vents. So very beautiful. So very Northwest.
Even though baking a pie outdoors like this was a first for me, the process and the feelings that it brought up were very old. And, after this success, well…I think I just might be a real pie maker!
Any first time or outdoor baking stories to share? Love to hear them.